Blistering pace weds us to these stereotyped characters for the duration.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Catholic woman chooses homicide over divorce, in a fourth thriller by Sloan (Act of God, 2002, etc.).

In 1955, Valerie O’Connor is a naïve Irish-Catholic girl from a large Vermont household where the punishment, while sometimes corporal, is never unjust, at least in her brainwashed view. Despite her father’s misgivings, she marries Jack Marsh, a Korean War vet with a future in airline mechanics. Jack’s mother died giving birth to him, and his alcoholic father battered a succession of nameless (to Jack) women. Thus Jack won’t want children (though he’ll get them), and women will be interchangeable. The oblivious Valerie suffers through it all. Jack rapes her on their honeymoon, misinterprets her feeble objections, and lashes out each time she announces a pregnancy, twice endangering the fetus. Still, the faith of her fathers won’t permit Val to leave Jack, use birth control, or rat him out over those cracked ribs and life-threatening tumbles. Decades wear on, Jack’s career advances, and his outside women proliferate. The family moves from Seattle to a hamlet south of San Francisco, where Valerie makes friends and gets a waitress job she adores. Jack’s abuse is sporadic, usually due to bourbon-fueled rage at being dumped by yet another mistress turned off by his technique. When his brutishness causes the death of one of his and Valerie’s children, the others plot their escape—and Valerie spends the’70s in a sedative fog, nipping at the bourbon herself. Two sons and a daughter walk the wild side, and another becomes a nun. Youngest son Ricky goes into Witness Protection, leaving Valerie with a grandson to raise—and a second chance. By now, the Marshes are in their 60s, and Val has a successful wedding couture business. Just when some hard-won tranquility settles on their abode, another scourge looms: retirement. The idled Jack returns to bourbon and gets what’s coming to him, about 400 pages too late.

Blistering pace weds us to these stereotyped characters for the duration.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2004

ISBN: 0-446-53029-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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